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Battlefield: Crécy

Edward III’s stunning victory over the French at Crécy marked a new dawn for the humble foot soldier. Julian Humphrys investigates this decisive battle of the Hundred Years’ War

Triumph of the longbow

CLASH OF CROWNS The army of King Edward III of England comes face-to- face with their French enemies at Crécy

The French army that made its way through the Picardy countryside in August 1346 was confident of victory. So confident, in fact, that its leaders had already shared out the potential English prisoners between themselves and worked out what ransoms to charge. After all, what chance did Edward III’s contemptible little army of foot soldiers stand against the flower of French chivalry?

Edward III had landed in Normandy in July, and after capturing and sacking Caen, he led his men east towards the Seine, burning and pillaging as he went. However, when he learned that King Philip VI was assembling a large army in Paris, he turned north. The French followed and finally caught up with him near Abbeville in Picardy.

Edward deployed his men along a ridge near the village of Crécy. He divided his army into three divisions, giving nominal command of the right-hand division, which would be nearest to the French, to his sixteen-yearold son Edward, the Black Prince.

The Earls of Oxford and Warwick, both experienced soldiers, were on hand to advise the young prince, as was Sir John Chandos, one of the finest soldiers of his age. The left-hand division was led by the Earl of Northampton, while Edward himself commanded the reserve from a vantage point near a windmill on top of the ridge.

Each division was made up of dismounted knights and men at-arms, Welsh spearmen, and substantial numbers of archers. Edward’s plan was to use his bowmen to disrupt the attacking French and to maul them so severely that if they did reach his lines, his men-at-arms could drive them back. He completed his preparations by ordering footdeep potholes to be dug in front of his lines in order to trip up enemy horses.

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The January 2017 issue of History Revealed.